Azerbaijan envoy says ready for military solution to Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Erdogan backs Baku

© Vladimir Vyatkin
Azerbaijan is ready to switch from a diplomatic to a military solution over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, Polad Bulbuloglu, Azeri ambassador to Russia, said following escalation in the area on Saturday.

Escalation of hostilities in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh LIVE UPDATES

“The attempts of a peaceful solution to this conflict have been underway for 22 years. How much more will it take? We are ready for a peaceful solution to the issue. But if it’s not solved peacefully then we will solve it by military means,” Bulbuloglu told Govorit Moskva radio station.

According to the ambassador, 21 percent of the Azerbaijani territory is now occupied by Armenia.

The compromise on the part of Azerbaijan is an offer to the Armenian military to abandon the disputed territory. Only after that may the dialogue start about the coexistence of the Azeri and Armenian peoples in Nagorno-Karabakh, he stressed.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan promised that his country will fully execute its obligations to ensure the security of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"We have a legal right to so because we are a party to the ceasefire agreement signed in 1994,” he said on Saturday.

Sargsyan urged the need to sign a mutual military assistance agreement with Nagorno-Karabakh, tasking the Foreign Ministry with making all the necessary preparations.

Heavy fighting involving artillery, tanks and aircraft broke out on the contact line between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh early on Saturday.

It’s so far unclear who's responsible for the harshest escalation in the region since 1994, with Baku and Yerevan shifting blame to each other and claiming to have delivered significant losses to the opposition.

The Azeri Defense Ministry said that it had lost 12 troops, a helicopter and a tank during hostilities on Saturday.

According to Sargsyan, 18 Armenian soldiers were killed and 35 injured in the fighting with Azerbaijani forces.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan phoned his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, to express condolences over the death of Azeri troops on the Nagorno-Karabakh border.

"The Turkish president expressed his support and solidarity in relation to the events on the contact line between Armenian and Azerbaijani [forces] and stressed that the Turkish people will always be with the people of Azerbaijan," the Azeri president’s press service said in a statement.

Later, Erdogan blamed the inaction of the OSCE Minsk Group for the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute remaining unsettled after all those years, Aksam newspaper reported.

"If the Minsk Group had solved the problem in due time, we wouldn’t have witnessed the events now taking place on the contact line” between Azeri and Armenian forces, the Turkish leader said in the US as he opened an Islamic center in Lanham, Maryland.

Ironically, Turkey is part of the Minsk Group, which has Russia, the US and France as its co-chairs, and also includes Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland and the two conflicting nations.

The defense ministers of Azerbaijan and Turkey also discussed the events in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz expressed his full support to Baku, saying it has a “just stance” on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry also condemned Armenia for an alleged attack and urged Yerevan to fulfill the terms of the ceasefire.

The two former Soviet republics are locked in a decades-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly-Armenian mountainous region that was part of the Azerbaijani SSR, but broke away in 1988.

The region declared independence in 1991, with a bloody three-year war ensuing. Russia brokered a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1994, but the tensions have never actually stopped since then and there is occasional violence.

The mutual distrust between Armenia and Azerbaijan is rooted in a long history of ethnic and religious conflicts in the region, as well as their participation in the rivalry of regional heavyweights – the Turks, the Russians and the Persians over the centuries.

Both nations had their first bid for statehood in the wake of the collapse of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Among other things their independence resulted in a war in 1918.

When Moscow reinstated its control over the region for the USSR, the conflict was swept under the rug, but never fully extinguished.